Members of the Islamic State terrorist group recently vandalized an ancient church in Northern Iraq and tore down the Christian cross to replace it with their trademark black flag.
Yesterday, the images of the attack, which took place at a monastery just north of Mosul, appeared on an ISIS-affiliated Twitter account. The pictures showed statues, ancient murals, and church bells being demolished by the extremist group.
Additionally, the militants are depicted destroying Christian paintings and relics with hammers. One particularly disturbing photo shows an ISIS member placing the ISIS flag atop the Mar Gorgis (St. George) monastery in place of a cross.
Since overtaking large portions of Iraq and Syria last summer, the jihadist group has worked tirelessly to rid the area of religions other than Islam, specifically targeting Christianity. Within a relatively short time, ISIS has destroyed and plundered dozens of historic, religious and heritage sites, including Christian churches and Sunni shrines in an attempt to establish a caliphate in the region.
Last month, a video released by the group showed several militants with sledgehammers and drills destroying priceless ancient artifacts in Iraq'a Mosul Museum. Just a few days prior, the group destroyed the ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Hatra in northern Iraq in a shocking attempt to erase the region's history.
"Their plan is to destroy Iraqi heritage, one site at a time," said Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University in New York, according to the AFP.
In July, the insurgents also seized a fourth-century Syrian monastery, and are faulted for destroying a tomb believed to be that of biblical prophet Jonah.
While the jihadist group has justified the destruction by claiming the religious statues, manuscripts and relics are "idolatrous," experts believe the militants traffic the items to fund their military and destroy only those pieces that are too large to be smuggled.
"ISIS has a stated goal to wipe out Christianity," Jay Sekulow, author of "The Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore," explained. "This why they are crucifying Christians -- including children -- destroying churches and selling artifacts. The fact is, this group will stop at nothing to raise funds for its terrorist mission."
Nineveh Yakou, an Assyrian archaeologist and director of cultural heritage and indigenous affairs at A Demand for Action, called ISIS' actions "senseless", and told the AFP that the militants are "systematically targeting Iraqi heritage sites, in particular Assyrian sites, and I don't believe they will stop until Iraq has been levelled".
"This is not only a cultural heritage crisis. This is a humanitarian crisis of the highest state of emergency. ISIS are attempting to wipe out the people of Iraq and their history. This is an undeniable cultural and ethnic cleansing," Yakou said.